Friday, December 26, 2014

How to Make a Dutch Oven Pie Crust

I’m not a big pie baker.  Not because I don’t like them, of course, but because it takes a lot of work to really do it right, and I’m still learning all of that process. Still, I love the results! I’ve made apple pies, pumpkin pies, and, most recently, a pecan pie.

One thing I’ve noticed, as I’m baking, is that the crust is pretty much the same process in each pie I bake. So, I’m thinking I should write that process out in it’s own blog entry, and then I can reference it in all of my pie recipes.

I used to make my pies in my 12” Dutch oven, but over time, I discovered that the 10” is better. The 12” is usually too much pie, and some ends up being spoiled. So, 10” from now on.

Also, some people will bake their pies in pie tins, set inside a Dutch oven. That does make it easier to craft, and easier to lift out.  However, current IDOS cookoff rules prohibit using any internal cooking devices like pans or trivets inside the Dutch ovens. Plus, I really like just baking right in the Dutch oven.  I also like to serve it right from the Dutch, too, so I’m not required to lift it out whole and complete. If you want to do that, it’s not tough if you do the right trick.

But first, let’s make the crust!

10” Dutch Oven

8-10 coals below
14-16 coals above

1 1/4 c Shortening
3 c Flour
1 Tbsp Vinegar
5 Tbsp Water (chilled in ice)
1 egg

I start simply by adding all of the ingredients into a large bowl. You can use butter or margarine, I’m told, instead of shortening, but those had other liquids in them, and they can make for less flaky crusts. I’ve always used All Purpose flour, because that’s what I’ve always had on hand. You can use pastry flour if you want. It will have less protein, and so, less gluten.

I use a pastry cutter to mix the ingredients together. Blend them all, but don’t knead, since you don’t want to build any gluten in the flour. Also, working it less with my hands keeps it cool, so the fats don’t melt.

Once it’s mixed, I put it between two sheets of parchment or waxed paper and begin rolling. At this point, I’m not preparing it for the oven, but rather creating layers, so it can be rolled out quite thick.  I dust it with just a little flour, and fold it in half, and then in quarters. Then, I roll it out again. A little more flour, a folding, and another rolling. I do that process 3-4 times, creating layers in the stack.  Then, I leave it in a clump, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge to chill for a half hour or so.

In the meantime, I prepare the Dutch oven. I’ll spray it with oil, lightly.  Then, if I want to lift the pie out of the Dutch oven when it’s done, I’ll prepare the lifting mechanism. I’ll cut two big squares of parchment. I fold these into two long strips, and lay them across the bottom of the Dutch oven, folded up the sides, and over the edges. Then I cut a circle of parchment (you can use the lid as a template, and cut it just a little smaller) and lay that in the dutch oven, over the crossed strips of folded parchment.  It should look like this:

Then, it’s time to roll out the dough. I take it out of the fridge, and break off about 2/3 of it. I put it in between parchment or waxed paper sheets. I roll it out pretty thin, and cut it just smaller than the Dutch oven lid. I carefully lift the circle and the lower paper sheet and lightly fold it in half, with the paper on the inside. I set this down into the Dutch oven, then unfold the other half. Finally, I peel off the paper. It’s tricky to position the dough after it’s placed, so it’s good to be careful as it’s going in.

Then, I take all of the leftover around the circle, and the extra that I broke away earlier, and I roll that out, in a long rectangle. I cut that into strips, about an inch to an inch and a quarter wide, and about a foot long.

Each of these strips are lifted up and placed around the inside side of the dutch oven. I press them together and also press into the “corner” where the bottom of the Dutch oven rises up into the wall. Presto! The crust is in place. Then, take a fork and poke holes in the bottom and the sides, to vent the steam.

In most cases, it’s now ready for the filling! Make the pie happen! (One tip I heard when making fruit pies is to spread softened butter over the interior of the pie to keep the crust from soaking up much of the liquid in the filling.)

If my pie has a top crust, I’ll roll out another amount of dough and cut another circle about the size of the lid. using the same technique I lift it onto the filling and position it, unfolding it, onto the top of the pie. I’ll pinch the sides and the top crust together in a decorative way and cut stylish vent holes in the top (usually 3-4) so the steam can release and keep the crust from tenting.

Then, I’ll brush the top of the crust with a little milk and sprinkle some more sugar over the surface. This helps make a nice sweet glaze.

Now, in certain circumstances, it’s a good idea to parbake the bottom crust (also known as “prebaking” or “blind baking”). If you’re doing some kind of custard pie, or a particularly wet fruit pie, or if the filling itself will not be baked (like a cream or mousse pie). This will help set the flakiness and crispness of the crust before the wet ingredients are baked. I can’t think of a pie that might use a prebaked base with a top crust.

Light some coals (probably just before you start rolling out the dough), and let them get white-edged.  Pour some dried beans into the bottom of the crust, spreading them up the sides as well. This will help hold the crust down and prevent bubbling. Put the Dutch oven out on the coals, as listed above and let it bake. Now, in a conventional kitchen, in a preheated oven, a prebake will typically take about 10 minutes. In a Dutch oven, you have to heat up the iron, so a partial bake should be about 20-25 minutes. If it’s a cream pie, or something that won’t be baked, I’ll fully bake it, about 30-35 minutes, until the sides are brown.

When it’s done, I take it off the coals and let it cool some. When I can handle it, I’ll scoop out the beans with a spoon, or my fingers, and then let it cool just a little more.

At that point, the bottom crust is ready for pie!

Then, when the pie is all filled, baked, and cooled, you can lift the pie out of the Dutch oven using the strips of parchment. It usually works best if there are two lifters, each person lifting two ends, but I've done it successfully by myself.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Absolutely Amazing Dutch Oven Burgers

Yesterday, I was browsin’ the webs when I came across this recipe for black bean burgers. I was intrigued, because, even though I’m not usually interested when a vegetable pretends to be meat, this recipe actually looked pretty good. I’ll probably try it sometime soon.


Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to do it with meat, anyway, because, really, it looked amazing.

I had decided that it would be an excellent chance for me to practice grilling under my wonderful new gazebo, but after prepping all the meat and the fixin’s, I discovered that someone had forgotten to close the valve on the propane cylinder last time, and we were outa gas. Seriously, I don’t know who could have done such a thing. I find it unconscionable and almost unforgivable. But, we must move on.

At that point, I decided to go ahead and cook them Dutch oven style, and fired up some coals anyway.

Dutch Oven Burgers

12” Shallow Dutch oven
22+ coals underneath

The lid of a 12” Dutch oven
22+ coals underneath

The burger meat:

2+ lbs of ground beef
1 onion (grated)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
chili powder
a handful of fresh parsley

Kaiser rolls

Sliced cheese (I used sharp cheddar)

Toppings (all optional)
cooked bacon

The first step was to mix up the meat. This was quite simple, I mixed the ingredients in the first block all together. I actually chose the spices based on my own whims, rather than on the recipe I found. Each one was about a teaspoon, except for the chili powder, which was only a few sprinkles. My homemade chili powder is actually pretty strong. You can adjust yours to your own powders and tastes.

I also sliced the topping onions, the tomatoes, and the cheese

I put the Dutch oven on the coals and let it pre-heat for quite a while. I really wanted it to be pretty hot at first. I made my patties fairly large, partly because I knew they’d have to fit on a kaiser roll, and also because I knew that they’d shrink. By the way, I chose the kaiser rolls because they are a bit firmer than typical store-bought hamburger buns. Those things are pathetic. I also made larger patties ‘cause I’m a guy and I like to have lots of meat on my burgers. I know it’s not healthy, but once in a while ya just gotta live large.

I put the patties in the Dutch oven, and used it essentially as a griddle. Because it was so hot to start with, it got a pretty good sear on the first side.

While the first round of patties were cooking, I got more coals under an inverted Dutch oven lid (on a trivet-stand) and let that heat up. After turning the burgers, I brushed butter on the inside of the kaiser rolls and put them on the heated lid to toast, butter side down. After the meat turns once, and cooks a bit, it’s also a good time to put on the cheese so it can melt yummily.

I was careful not to overcook the burgers. I did cook them all the way through, but not dry. It’s tricky to get to that, I think. But, it worked last night. I think the Dutch oven is not as hot as most gas grills, which helped me to not dry them out. I also think it’s very important for burgers to be topped and served the instant they come off the heat. The longer you wait, the drier and crustier they get. Not good. If you’re serving family, have them gather and pray not too long after you do the first flip or they’ll be too late.

Finally, I pulled the buns off the lid/griddle, put the burger, sizzling, onto the bun, and let the family top it as they pleased. For my money, I love lots of extra stuff on my burgers, so I tend to layer it pretty high. Others might not. That’s OK. Even with the additional flavors, the spices and the flavor of the meat came through. It was possibly the best burgers I’ve ever made.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shelf-stable 100% Whole Wheat Bread

One of the problems with doing breads with long-term storage is that not all of the ingredients of bread are shelf-stable. The flour is a particular culprit. The wheat grain is easy to store, but as soon as it's ground, the inner parts are exposed to the air and begin to degrade. This is especially true of bread flour. I don't like to make bread with flour that's more than a month or two opened. I just don't get as much gluten, nor as much rise.

Add to that the problem that whole wheat flour doesn't develop much gluten anyway. That leaves you stuck with a lot of compromise. To get the lift and the fluff that the gluten gives, a lot of people will add fresh bread flour to the whole wheat, usually at a ratio 70% whole wheat to 30% white bread flour. That works, but the problem, again, is storage.

On the other hand, baking a loaf out of fresh-ground whole wheat flour works very nicely, but it won't have the gluten, so it won't get all stretchy and fluffy. It'll be more dense and crumbly. Still edible, of course, but not what most folks are used to.

This recipe takes a bit longer, because the ground flour pre-soaks. This helps boost the gluten development, so that it can trap the gas the yeast makes and rise more fluffy.

12" Shallow Dutch Oven
12-14 coals below
26-28 coals above

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water

1/2 Tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 c. liquid honey
6 tbsp. butter, melted fresh, or mixed from powder
1 egg, fresh, or mixed from powder
2 tsp. salt
2-3 cups whole wheat flour, more for kneading

I started this whole experiment out by grinding up some wheat (I use an electric grinder, but you can do an hand-cranker if you really want to). I took about 3 cups of the flour and an equal amount of water (almost hot works very well to be absorbed). I let that sit for a long time, about an hour or two. The intent is not to have this raise, since we haven't added any yeast yet. We just want to coax the gluten strands into forming.

When I came back, it was gooey, stringy, stretchy, and sticky.  Yuk.  But no matter. I mixed the yeast with the additional hot water (just hot to the touch, no hotter), and let it sit to get foamy and active.

I added the yeast mix and all of the other ingredients into the mixing bowl (add only 1 or 2 of the final cups of whole wheat flour.) It was kinda hard to stir, because the gluten had had a lot of time to develop with the liquid. Once all of the ingredients were well-incorporated, I turned it out of the bowl, and onto my kitchen counter (well-floured, with whole wheat flour). I began to knead it, sprinkling on more whole-wheat flour as I went. Just enough to keep it not so sticky on my hands. I was really pleased to feel the gluten tugging on it. It was coming together much more so than any other whole wheat loaf I'd done before. Finally, it passed the stretchy windowpane translucence test!

I shaped it into a boule and set it aside in an oiled bowl to rise. I sprayed on a light coating of oil, to help it to not dry out, then covered it and let it rise for a couple of hours.

Since the gluten had developed so well, it rose quit fully and quickly. After the first rise, I quickly reshaped into a boule, pinched a seam at the "bottom", and set it, seam side up, into my proofing baskets for the final rise. As I was doing this, it was good to see a nice, tight surface. That showed that there was, in fact, good, stretchy gluten!

I lit up the coals and let them get white edges. Once there were many that were ready, I oiled the inside of the Dutch oven and set the coals below it and on the lid, so that the Dutch oven could preheat.

Once the coals had been on the empty, closed Dutch oven, preheating, it was time to bake. I lifted the lid, then quickly upturned the proofing basket into the middle of the Dutch oven. Now, the seam side, the "bottom", was back on the bottom, and the stretchy clean surface was on top. This I sliced a couple of times with a sharp knife, to help it vent and "bloom" in the initial spring. I quickly covered it back up with the heated lid and marked the time.

After about 15 minutes, I turned the lid about 1/4 of the way, and then lifted the Dutch oven and turned it a quarter turn as well. After about 30 minutes, I checked it, and it was looking nice and brown, but not done yet.  I poked it with the thermometer and dropped the lid. After another 10 minutes or so, I looked again, and saw that the bread had reached it's done-ness temperature, about 180-190 (being a darker bread).

Then, I lifted it out and set it onto a cooling rack. It really tasted great, and I was surprised by the lightness of the texture with a traditionally heavy bread like %100 whole wheat.  It was very fluffy. Not like a french bread, to be sure, but still, very palatable. So, I will always do a pre-soak with the non-glutenous flours. It worked wonders!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Cool Interview!

I recently had a wonderful opportunity for a phone interview with Scott, of He's a great interviewer, and our conversation was lots of fun!

Here is the interview in mp3 and transcribed.  Go check it out!

While you're there, get on his mailing list and get his free eBook, "Outdoor Cooking Magic Tricks". There's lots of cool stuff in it.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Dutch Oven Gazebo!

I’ve not posted much this summer. I’ve actually been very active in Dutch ovening. I’ve cooked quite a bit, and I’ve judged a few cookoffs. But I haven’t been writing much. There are a lot of reasons for that, including overall stress and working on another book, but the big reason is that I’ve been working on a big Dutch oven project in the back yard. Last week, it was unveiled.

I’ve been building an outdoor kitchen!

As many of you who read my blog know, I like to cook all winter long. I also like to cook when it’s raining or any other kind of inclement weather. Basically, I like to cook, and I don’t like it when the weather gets in the way. Now, at times, I’ve used umbrellas, tarps, or caps, or even moved my cooking onto a covered porch or into my garage. But those really aren’t solutions to the problem.

So, this spring, my sweet wife and I talked about options for making a good Dutch oven space in a corner of the yard. It started out simply enough. I had a mental vision of a sort of wood shelter overhead with a shallow deck underneath.

Jodi, on the other hand is a master at finding things cheap, and secondhand. She used a local classified ad website to find cheap paver and patio bricks, similar to the ones that were already in place in other parts of the yard. She found a 13 x 13 metal gazebo that someone who was moving wanted to sell for next to nothing (I spent two weeks disassembling it, then bringing it home, and digging and pouring footings for it before reassembling it in all its glory). Laying the brick was a real challenge for someone of my weight and age. It really killed my knees.

I used cinderblock and a steel table for the cooking space, and I brought out a tall bar table to use for food prep. The grill fit in nicely, and my father-in-law built a rolling serving table.

But finally, it was all done. Last Sunday, we had visitors over, friends from Jodi’s work. Other families with kids with special health care needs. We all sat around and ate well while visiting and playing guitars! I cooked bacon-wrapped chicken, au gratin potatoes, and brownies. I also made a couple of loaves of sourdough bread that were amazing. Two of the best I’ve ever made, I think.

I’m very excited to use it over the years to come!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shelf-Safe Spaghetti in the Dutch Oven

In the process of preparing the meals and recipes for my next book, which is all about cooking with food storage, I’ve run into the problem of meats.  The big question is, how to do meat dishes with shelf-stable ingredients.

Shelf-stable, of course, implies ingredients that can be pulled from long-term storage on a shelf.  That does not include frozen meats.  It’s a good thing to have a good supply of frozen meats in your food storage, don’t get me wrong.  It’s great to thaw them out and cook up good meats.  However, even those can be subject to freezer burn, and if your power goes out for more than a few days, you’re in trouble.

That leaves you three options:  Dried meat, canned meat, and fake meat. None of these are ideal, and we will all swear up and down that fresh meats are the best, because they are.  However, if you use these properly, with good ingredients and seasonings, you can cook up dishes that are delicious, filling, and still provide the protein you need.

I cooked up some things last weekend, in preparation for the book, that use some shelf-stable meats.  One was the jerky chili that I did a few months ago, found here. That was a tasty example of using dried meats.

I also made a spaghetti sauce using beef flavored TVP.  This is “Textured Vegetable Protein” and it’s a staple of the vegans.  It has a texture very much like ground meat, it carries various flavorings, and it’s made entirely from soy, so there’s no animal products.  It also is dried and stores forever.  We had in our food storage a number of #10 cans of this stuff, in various flavors, like chicken, beef, and bacon, but I was always afraid to try it.  The mere thought of smooshy fake meat made me run for the hills.  But I tried it this weekend, and my results were good.

Shelf Stable Spaghetti in the Dutch Oven

8” Dutch oven

12+ coals below

10” Dutch oven

16+ coals below

1 cup water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
1 cup beef TVP
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can tomato sauce
2-4 Tbsp dehydrated onions
2-4 Tbsp dehydrated sweet peppers
1 4 oz can mushrooms
crushed red pepper

3-4 cups water
a handful of spaghetti noodles

I started by lighting up some coals, and once they were hot, I set up the 8” Dutch oven and the 10” Dutch oven with their respective coals, with water in the 10” and stock in the 8”.  I put the lids on, and waited for them to boil.

The stock, being the least, boiled first, so I dealt with it first.  TVP should be mixed with boiling water at a 1:1 ratio, so I tossed in the cup of TVP and stirred it up.  It absorbed the liquid almost instantaneously. I mixed in the tomatoes and the tomato sauce, and stirred it up, replacing the lid.  I pulled away some of the coals, because I wanted it to begin simmering, and not to burn on the bottom.

Then, I added in all of the other flavorings, and kept it simmering.

About then, the water in the 10” was boiling.  I tossed in the spaghetti sticks and reclosed the lid. in a few minutes, they had softened, so I stirred them up to keep them from sticking.

After about 8-10 minutes, the spaghetti was “al dente”, which means that it’s not so soft.  It still resists your tooth a little bit.  I strained the spaghetti out of the water, and served it on the plate, smothered in sauce.  I also sprinkled some parmesan onto it, which, technically, isn’t shelf-stable, but it’s certainly moreso than softer cheeses.

The final verdict?  I was impressed.  Had I not known it was TVP, I might have thought it was ground beef.  In this particular dish, there are a lot of other flavors to distract the tongue, so not so much attention is paid to the flavor or the texture of the TVP.  If I were to eat the TVP straight, or if it were a bigger part of the dish, I’m not sure how well it would do.


Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baking Bread for Church

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to get very personal in this post. I’m going to talk about my church and my faith.

But - I hope it won’t be in a preachy way.  I hope it relates to the core of why we make food and how we make some of the food and ingredient choices we make for one circumstance or another.  It really goes to the heart of the art of cooking.  I hope I’ll be speaking to expression and meaning in the food and in the result. It’s really the first chance I’ve had to take an emotion and express it through ingredients, through process, and, finally, to result.

If you don’t want to be bothered with all that, I won’t be offended.  You can skip down below and read what I hope will be a good, solid, yummy bread recipe. On the other hand, I hope you’ll also take a moment and, in the comments section below, tell me about a time when you’ve cooked something expressive.

OK, here we go--

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to provide the bread for our ward’s Sacrament Service. For those not of my faith, let me just take a moment to explain that. In a Mormon chapel, every Sunday, one of the meetings (the most important one, theologically) is the Sacrament meeting. We listen to “talks” (what we call sermons), and sing, of course, but it’s the actual ordinance of the Sacrament that’s the key portion of the meeting. In it, baptized members of the church eat a tiny piece of bread and drink a tiny cup of water in symbolic remembrance of the Savior’s suffering and the offering of the Atonement to us. It’s a big deal to us (or at least it should be). It’s a part of our weekly renewal and repentance.

So, I got the chance to provide the bread for that service last week.  Now, normally, the bread is just store-bought sliced bread. It doesn’t matter, theologically or doctrinally, what bread you use.  In the Last Supper, Jesus himself probably used some variant on a Pita or some unleavened flatbread.

Since I love to bake bread in the Dutch oven, I got up early in the morning to do that, to bake the loaves that would be used in our Sacrament service.

Part of the reason why I bring all this up is to share my thought process as I decided what I was going to do.  My first thought was to pull out all the stops and make an amazing herb loaf, or the cocoa bread, or maybe even a rye. Practical reasons stopped the rye, it would take too long to rise. And the others didn’t seem right. I wanted to give it my best.  I mean, this is for Church, right? In some ways, I’m baking for God, here!

Then I thought about the service itself, and I realized that if I did one of those wonderful breads, then lots of people would be tasting that wonderful bread and they might start thinking, “Wow, that bread is really great!”.  And suddenly, they’re pulled out of the ordinance.  They’re thinking about the bread, not the Atonement.

The bread would have to be simple and plain.  It would have to be the best simple and plain bread I’ve ever baked. In that sense, it might even be a bit zen-like or like a Shaker hymn...

Anyway, so I set about my recipes and identified a pure and simple bread recipe.  I did add a little olive oil and maybe an egg for a touch of richness, and the dough turned out to be a very damp, rustic dough, which, I think, added to the fluffy lightness in the end. I also doubled what’s below and baked two loaves, one for my family.  As I gathered up the ingredients, I said a quick prayer inside, and started in!

Church Bread

12” Dutch Oven
14-15 coals below
18-22 coals above

1 Tbsp Yeast
2 Cup water (110 degrees)
2 Tbsp sugar

~4 Cups fresh bread flour, adding as much as 1 more during kneading
1 tsp salt
~2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg (optional)

The process was very much like every other bread loaf I’ve done.  I started by getting some warm tap water (to touch, it feels like a nice hot shower, even just a little too hot).  I added the yeast, the sugar, and stirred it up. I set that aside to activate.

Meanwhile, I sifted the flour into a large mixing bowl, and added the salt.  Once the yeast was nice and frothy, and added that and the oil into the mix and stirred it all up.

I scooped it out onto a well-floured countertop and started kneading, shaking on more flour as it was needed. As I mentioned, when it got to a good windowpane test , it was still a very damp, loose dough, but, obviously, not as sticky as when I started. I shaped it into a large ball and set it in the oiled bowl to rise, covered with a tea towel.

There’s quite a bit of yeast in the recipe, so it rose fairly quickly. when it was more than doubled, I punched it down and reshaped it, and set it in a cloth-lined basket for the second raise. As I reshaped it, I pinched a seam along “the bottom”, but I put that side upwards in the basket.  That way, when I would dump it out into the hot Dutch oven, the seam would truly be “the bottom” of the loaf.

I lit up some coals, and when they were getting white, I set up the proper coals over and under a 12” Dutch oven.  I had lightly oiled the interior of the oven, and I let it preheat, empty, with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes.

Finally, it was all ready to bake. I opened up the Dutch oven, and turned the dough ball in from the basket.  I sliced the top and put the cover back on. After about 15 minutes, I opened up the lid and put in a short-stemmed thermometer, and rotated the lid and the Dutch oven. It was a pretty breezy day, so I added 2-3 coals to the bottom and 3-4 to the top.  After another 20 minutes, it was done (to an internal temperature of 190-200°F). I brought it in and turned it out onto a cooling rack.

After it cooled, right before we left to take it to church, I sliced it up, and it was probably the lightest, fluffiest loaf I've ever baked. I tasted a corner, and it was just what I wanted: pure, simple, and perfectly cooked.

At church, my oldest son got to participate in the service, as he often does. It was very special to me to hear him say the prayer to bless the bread, then to watch it be passed to the congregation. As it came to me, I felt a peace and happiness that I think comes from being able to give something, an offering, and know that it was accepted.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dutch Oven Jazzy BBQ Pork Ribs with Potatoes

I’ve not done a lot of ribs over the years, but I have done some.  I’ve done enough to learn three things that are very important keys to yummy, fall-off-the-bone, mess-all-over-your-fingers-and-face Dutch oven ribs.

They are: First, a good spice rub.  This lays the foundation of seasoning and flavor for your ribs.  Gotta have it.

Second: a good barbecue sauce.  This is the second layer.  There are as many ways to make a good sauce as there are people cooking, so you really have to try to go wrong.  Each sauce brings its own nuances and subtleties.  Tangy?  Sweet? Sticky?  Sloppy?  Hot?  Fruity? You can adjust it to your hearts content.

Finally:  a long cook time.  Cooking the ribs until they’re at the government recommended temperature for “doneness” and safety isn’t gonna cut it.  Yeah, it’ll taste good, but you’ll have to gnaw it all off the bone instead of just letting it fall off.  You’ve got to cook it well past “done” to get to that point.  Fortunately, doing that in a Dutch oven won’t dry out the meat, because the moisture will be trapped under the heavy lid.

One other thing I have to say about this:  Sometimes, cooking is like playing classical music. I pay really close attention to the recipe and I measure out the spices and ingredients, as if I were reading the music note-for-note.  Other times, a good meal should be like a good jazz tune.  You have a lead sheet with the melody and the chord structure, but it’s not so much notes as it is guidelines.  You really make it up as you go, and you never play the same song the same way twice.

This last time I made these ribs, a couple of weeks ago, it was a great jazz jam!

Dutch Oven Jazzy BBQ Pork Ribs with Potatoes

1x 12” Deep Dutch oven

12 coals below
14-16 coals above

1 rack of pork baby back ribs

Mark’s Meat Rub

1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp crushed coriander
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp coarse ground black pepper
1 Tbsp thyme
2 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp salt
1 tsp oregano
...and I added some chili powder this time

Mark's Awesome Sauce

1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
Brown sugar (or regular sugar and molasses)
Something acidic, like lemon juice, or balsamic vinegar
Some kind of hot spice (Cayenne Pepper or Chili powder)

3-4 medium potatoes, cubed
2-3 medium onions, cut into eighths

As I said, this is more improvised jazz than it is formalized classical.  The recipes above are for my traditional spice rub and my own barbecue sauce.  I was out of the spice rub, and I was feeling a bit minimal this time, so I just went back to basics:  Salt, black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder with just a bit of chili powder.  All of the other flavors are great, too.  Just do what you want!

I opened the ribs package and cut them into chunks of about 4 ribs each.  That’s the only way you’ll get them into the Dutch oven.  I rubbed the spices over the surfaces (both sides), covered them with plastic wrap, and put them on a baking pan in the fridge.  While that was chilling and soaking in the flavors, I lit up the coals.

I lightly oiled the inside of the Dutch oven.  I don’t know that it was really necessary, but I did anyway.  A lot of the fat from the ribs will render out anyway.  Then I set the rib chunks in however I could get them.  You could probably fit them into a regular Dutch oven, but when you add the potatoes and onions later, you’ll want it deeper.

I set the dutch oven, covered, on and under the coals.  It was a pretty windy day, so I had to keep the side fire going and add more coals to the oven about every 15-20 minutes.  I had planned on about a 3 hour cook time.  Occasionally, I would check on the ribs, but not very often.

After about 2 hours, I started preparing the rest of the items.  I made the barbecue sauce first.  This, also, was improvised.  I used molasses instead of sugar and balsamic vinegar as well as mustard and lemon juice for the acid.  It really gave it a dark look and great tanginess.  If you like yours sweeter, use more sugar.  For more heat, add more chili powder or tabasco. Add, stir, taste.

Then, I cubed up the potatoes and the onions.  In retrospect, some sliced or diced green/red peppers would have been nice to add as well.

Out at the Dutch oven, I pulled the ribs out and tossed in the potatoes and onions.  Those got stirred up to mix, and to break up the onions a little.  Then, I restacked the ribs on top of the potatoes.  With a silicon basting brush, I coated one side of the meat with a very thick, liberal layer of sauce, then using tongs, flipped them over and coated the other side.

I put the lid back on and replenished the coals.  After about another 15-20 minutes, I opened it up again, and I could see the sauce baking onto the ribs.  It really looked GREAT!  I slathered on another layer of sauce, turned them over, and did the same to the other side.  I made sure to drizzle more sauce over the onions and potatoes, too.  I closed it up and replenished the heat again. Finally, by the third time, I could see that they were about ready. I pulled it all in, and we set the table.Just before serving, I put another coat of sauce on.

The rendered fat from the ribs had done a nice job browning and crisping the potatoes, and the bold flavors of the rub and the sauce on the ribs was amazing.  It just doesn’t get better than this!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bring on the Heat, Part III

Jump to the first hot pepper post, and the second hot pepper post.

Here's the third and (maybe) final installment in the posting series about the hot and spicy peppers. I've been using hot peppers and things ever since I started cooking, and, while I don't know everything, I have picked up a few practical tips.  So, here are my tips for cooking with heat:

1 - Decide in advance what you’re shooting for.  Are you cooking what will be a 4-alarm chili, or do you just want to liven up a previously tame beef stew?  Just a little bit of heat will pick up a dish, often even without it being perceptibly “hot”.  On the other hand, sometimes you just want to scorch out your mouth.  In either case, decide beforehand rather than arrive there by accident or default.

2 - Start with less, and add as you go.  It’s easy to add more heat, but it’s impossible to take it out.  That’s why it’s best to go tame at first, and then build up, tasting along the way, until you get to where you want to be.  Because of the variations, you won’t be able to rely on a recipe.  “2 tsp chili powder” will not always be consistent.  It’s also best, if possible, to let the recipe cook and simmer a bit between each tasting.  That way the flavors have some time to blend in.

3 - Different peppers have unique flavors, as well as different amounts of heat.  Get to know them as much as you can.  I really like the flavor of cayenne, for example, but I’m not as fond of jalapeno.

4 - Much of the capsaicin is in the seeds and the core, so you can tame a chili significantly by cutting those away.  You can do a lot of adjusting that way, too.  For example, maybe one jalapeno is not enough, but two is too much.  Add one in, and core the second.

5 - Use gloves while handling chili, and don’t wipe your eyes. I have learned this one by sad experience.  You know the self-defence sprays, that you blast in an attacker’s face?  That’s chili extract. If you’re working with chilis, and you wipe your eyes with all that capsaicin oil on your fingers, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.  Use gloves, and throw them away when you’re done.

Here’s one final bit on chilis:  A few years ago, I was at a roadside produce stand as fall approached.  They were selling lots of different things, but I found a big basket of serrano chilis.  I had this idea, so I bought a few pounds.  I brought them home and laid them out on a baking tray and dried them (make sure they are completely dry, with no moisture).  I broke off the stems and chewed them up in one of those little “Magic Bullet” blenders, where you invert the cup over the blade.  Presto, homemade chili powder.  In subsequent years, I’ve found that I like to blend different chilis together in that mix.  I’ll usually do some serranos, some jalapenos, and some anaheims.  Commercial chili powders will often include other things like garlic powder or oregano, but I prefer to add those into a dish separately.

If you do this, here are two tips:

1 - I tried it in my big tabletop Ninja blender, but it didn’t get the particles fine enough.  Once it got them chopped to a certain point, it just tossed the chunks around.  The smaller blender went faster and chopped finer, into a real powder.

2 - Breathe carefully or wear a surgical mask.  It will burn your nose and throat if you don’t.

I hope these blog entries have helped you get a better grasp on how to use heat and peppers in your dishes.  Don’t be afraid of them, but use them judiciously, and they’ll serve you well!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Molecular Gastronomy: Rice Pudding With Apple Caviar, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post on Molecular Gastronomy

So, once again, we’re talking about molecular gastronomy, or, as it’s sometimes called, modernist cooking.  When I hear that term, I wonder what will come next, maybe post-modernist cooking?  Will we be debating the existence of food?

But I digress...

As I said last time, the first attempt My son and I made at Basic Spherification failed miserably, and we chalked it up to a learning experience. We made some adjustments the second time and it all turned out.  I’m sure that as we do it more and more, we’ll get better and better and understand it more as well.

As I begin to list the ingredients, you’ll notice that the amounts are in grams, not in cups or tablespoons.  That’s because this is chemistry, and chemists don’t measure in teaspoons. Accurate measurements are very important in this process.

Here’s what you need:


At least 1000 grams Apple Juice
5 grams sodium citrate
5 grams sodium alginate
About a liter of clean water
5 grams calcium chloride


Ph test strips
a scale that measures with an accuracy of 0.1 grams
small cups for measuring and dispensing the chemicals
a blender or a whisk
4 clean bowls, preferably clear glass
a large plastic medical syringe
a small strainer or spoon with small holes.

I started out with a lot of the apple juice, and to intensify the flavor, I boiled it and reduced it down to about half. To do the spherification, you’ll need exactly 500 grams, so I started with more than double that. Confession: I did this step with a saucepan on my stove. I know I should have done it on coals in my Dutch oven. I hang my head in shame.

Then, I let it cool in the fridge. When it was at about room temperature, I pulled it out and tested the Ph with the test strips. There were two possible reasons why the first one failed. One was that the juice might have been too acidic. The best results happen when your Ph is more than 3.6. The first batch tested at 4, so it should have been OK, but it was really close. Also, many fruit juices have added calcium which can begin the spherification reaction too soon. In either case, sodium citrate is the answer. So, the second time, I added some to the juice. This measurement is not so critical, I’d read.

Once that was dissolved, it was time to make the sphere base solution. I measured exactly 500 grams of the reduced juice. For the spherification to work, you have to have accurate measurements. My scale wasn’t so accurate, and that also caused problems the first time. I was much more careful, but I think I also got lucky the second time.  I also measured out 5 grams of the sodium alginate

Then I got the blender (the instructions say you can use a whisk, but I was a bit nervous, so I did the blender). While blending the juice, I gradually tipped in the sodium alginate. The first time, it got very thick. I think we had added too much, and I think it also reacted with the juice. The second time, it did get a little thicker, but it was still very runny.

Even though the sodium alginate looks dissolved, it needs some time to fully hydrate and to be fully absorbed into the juice. Also, the air bubbles have to dissipate.  I set it in the fridge for about an hour, or longer.

After a time in the fridge, the liquid looked clear, but there was still some bubbles on top. I scooped these away with a spoon.

While I let the sphere base solution get a bit warmer, I made the setting bath. I set up three bowls.  In the first, I put 500 grams of water. I used tap water, but the instructions also recommend using distilled water. I think next time, I’ll do that. While whisking, I gradually added the calcium chloride, and stirred until it was fully dissolved. I filled each of the other bowls about 3/4 of the way with water.

I had bought a molecular gastronomy chemical kit to do this and it came with a big plastic syringe. I have a son with special health care needs, so we actually have these things all over the house, anyway. I sucked up the sphere base solution into the syringe and, from a height of about 2-3 inches, began dribbling it into the setting bath.  It’s important to not press too fast, or you’ll get a worm, not a sphere. I like having a clear glass bowl, because it was easier to see the resulting caviar spheres from the side of the bowl than it was from above. The fact that the apple juice was a light color didn’t help much either.

Once I’d squeezed out about a full syringe of juice, I gently stirred up the water to see what we had. I stirred over the spheres, rather than through them, and let the water motion move them around. I let them set in the bath for about a minute or two, and then lifted them out with the strainer. I poured them immediately into the first water bath, rinsed them, and then into the second water bath.

I got a small bowl and put a heaping spoonful of rice pudding into the center, and then placed the apple caviar beads around and on top of it. It was a really elegant presentation, and the flavor was wonderful. It was a lot of fun to try and a great learning experience!

By the way, the spheres keep gelling even though they’ve been rinsed off, so It’s important to serve them as quickly as possible.  A great video instruction series can be found at

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dutch oven Rice Pudding With Apple Caviar, Part I

Part I of a two-part story. Here's the link to part II, about the molecular gastronomy

A long time ago, in fact back when John over at first encouraged me to start here at Mark’s Black Pot, there was a forming movement called “molecular gastronomy”.  It was kinda weird, kinda exciting, kinda new. It involved using science, particularly chemistry, to make some new and unusual sorts of taste experiences.

Recently, my son encountered some examples on youtube and we started looking into being able to do it ourselves.  It’s both simple and complex, so it took a bit of research. One of the simplest processes is one called Basic Spherification.  Here’s how it goes:

1 - You pick a juice or a puree
2 - You mix it with one chemical
3 - You drizzle drops of it into a bath of water and another chemical
4 - The chemicals instantly react to form a coating, a membrane, around the sphere of juice.
5 - You rinse it off and serve it, and it looks like juice caviar.  When you pop them in your mouth, they pop with the flavor of the juice.

So, we got a kit of the chemicals, and gave it a try.  Actually, it took two tries. So, I’m going to share the process here, because it was a lot of fun, and we learned a lot doing it.

But first, a bit of tradition to go with our modernist dessert.

I wanted to make something to go with it. I mean, you don’t just eat caviar straight from the bottle, do you?  I started thinking about things to put it on, a proverbial canvas to carry the paint. I wanted the base flavors to be subtle, not strong, but complementary to the caviar’s own.  I decided on a rice pudding and an apple juice caviar.

So, today’s entry is not so much about molecular gastronomy as it is the prep for it.  Then, in the next spot, I’ll tell you how to do the caviar.

Dutch Oven Rice Pudding

8” Dutch oven
12-13 coals below

3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk

2/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

First of all, I got some coals going, and I cooked the rice.  Over time, I’ve developed a way to do rice that works for me almost every time, without burning.  I put one part rice and two parts water into either my 8” or 10” Dutch oven and set it on coals to boil.  I watch closely to notice when the steam starts venting out from under the lid.  At that point, it’s been boiling for several minutes already.  I’ll mark that time, and let it go for an additional ten minutes more.  Then, I pull it off the coals and let it sit for another 15-20 minutes.  At no time in this process do I lift the lid! Only after it’s all done.

In this case, however, instead of bringing it in and serving it, I put it back on the coals, and stirred in the milk, sugar, and salt.  I put the lid back on and let it come back up to a simmer, and cook for another 15-20 minutes.

I whisked the milk and the egg together. I’m not sure if I needed to or not, but I decided to temper the egg, so that it wouldn’t cook and congeal when it suddenly hit the hot rice and milk.  I got the egg and milk mixture in a bowl next to the Dutch oven, and, while whisking the egg mixture, gradually added big spoonfuls of hot rice and milk. The idea is to gradually bring the temperature of the egg up so that it blends in without scrambling.  When it was all hot, then I poured it all into the Dutch oven.  I added the final flavorings and let it cook for another 4-5 minutes.

A note about the seasonings, go easy. The idea is to create a platform for the apple juice caviar, so you want flavor, but not too much. Of course, if you are making the pudding just for a dessert and you’re not going to put anything on top, then season all you want!

Finally, I let it cool. Actually, because our first attempt at spherification bombed, I ended up refrigerating the pudding and bringing it out the next day.  It was delicious, even the next day!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chili Peppers: Bring on the Heat, Part II

How Hot is Hot?

Today, I’m continuing to mumble on with some of my thoughts and research about hot peppers and such.  After learning last week about the chemistry of hot and how it reacts with your tongue, I thought I revisit something I wrote about a long time ago, and talk about how “hot” is measured.

There are a number of ways, but the most common of all is the “Scoville” scale. It’s named after pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who developed this method of testing and measuring in 1912..

Here’s how it works:  When you want to test a pepper variety, or even a crop, some of the peppers are dried, and an extract is made with alcohol.  That extract is then diluted with a formulated sugar and water solution until a panel of tasters no longer taste any heat.  The measure, then, is how much dilution there has to be to tame the peppery beast.

The system works, but there are a lot of variables.  First of all, since the tasters are humans, there will be variances from testing group to testing group.  It’s not empirical, like counting the actual capsaicin molecules would be.  Second, even the same variety of pepper will not measure the same.  Soil, climate, and many other factors will impact the heat of a given pepper crop.  So, not all jalapenos are created equal.

In addition, those eating the pepper or the dish will have different tolerances to heat.  Some of that’s born in, some of that changes with age, and the eater’s own experiences with hot can make perceptions vary.  For example, someone who eats hot food on a daily basis won’t be phased by a milder pepper that would make a lightweight run screaming for the water fountain.

As if that isn’t variation enough, the preparation of the pepper can impact its heat, too, like pickling, etc...

Still, it’s good to have a relative scale.  This guides us in making choices about what kind of heat to use, and how much of it to use.

  • Scoville heat units - Examples
  • No significant heat - Bell pepper, Aji dulce
  • 100–900 - Pimento, Peperoncini, Banana pepper, Cubanelle
  • 1,000–2,500 - Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew, Sriracha sauce, Gochujang
  • 3,500–8,000 - Espelette pepper, Jalapeño pepper, Chipotle, Smoked Jalapeño, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican peppers, Hungarian wax pepper, Tabasco sauce, Fresno pepper
  • 10,000–23,000 - Serrano pepper, Peter pepper, Aleppo pepper
  • 30,000–50,000 - Guntur chilli, Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper, Tabasco pepper, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese)
  • 50,000–100,000 - Byadgi chilli, Bird's eye chili, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Piri piri (African bird's eye), Pequin pepper, Siling Labuyo 
  • 100,000–350,000 - Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, Piri Piri Ndungu, Madame Jeanette, Peruvian White Habanero, Jamaican hot pepper, Guyana Wiri Wiri, Fatalii
  • 350,000–580,000 - Red Savina habanero
  • 855,000–1,463,700 - Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chilli, Bhut Jolokia chili pepper (Ghost pepper), Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper, Bedfordshire Super Naga, 7-Pot Chili
  • 1,500,000–2,000,000 Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Carolina Reaper

With this chart (courtesy of wikipedia) as a general guide, you can experiment with various chilis and various amounts of heat.  The ones in bold are the ones I, personally, like and use the most. Also, this wikipedia article has some interesting information about chilis in general, particularly about their history and origins.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dutch Oven Chicken Artichoke Soup

There are a few ingredients that you can use in a dish that will immediately class it up.  It almost doesn’t matter how you use them, just the fact that it’s in there (and in the title) will immediately make foodies like me sit up and take notice.  Without it, the dish is pleasant, but with it, the plate becomes a gourmet delight!  A well-seasoned and grilled chicken breast is nice, for example, but if you put steamed asparagus next to it on the plate, it gets an extra start in the rating, right away!

Artichoke is another one of these.

About two weeks ago, I had this germ of an idea for a dish with a chicken soup and a fresh half artichoke.  I started looking at various artichoke soups online, and most of them involved canned or bottled pickled artichoke hearts, veggies, and broth, then simmered and pureed.  So, what you got was a thicker, creamier sort of soup.

That sounds great, but it wasn’t what I was imagining.  In fact, I couldn’t find anyone who had done what I had in mind. That was encouraging, but it also made me nervous.

Dutch Oven Chicken Artichoke Soup

12” Dutch oven

20-24 coals below

1 Tbsp Oil
1 can mushrooms or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
2 medium onions, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 sweet peppers. diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Oil
4 tbsp flour

1 cup milk
4 cups chicken stock
Juice and zest of 2 lemons

3 artichokes

This soup is built up in steps, or layers.  First, I browned and sauteed the veggies to get the maximum amount of flavors.  I did that in the best order, so that those that cook longer start first.  Then, I made a roux to help thicken it, and created the soup.  Finally, I added the artichoke halves to cook while the soup simmered.

To get started, I put the 12” Dutch oven on some hot coals, with a little puddle of oil in the bottom.  I let that heat up for about 10-15 minutes.  While that’s happening I prepared the chicken and the veggies.

A word about the chicken.  I had some pulled chicken from when I made some stock a bit ago.  After eating a roast chicken or turkey, I boil the remainder (the bones and the rest of the meat), and the liquid becomes stock for soups (see below).  I also pull the remaining meat off the bones, and shred it for things like this, or for enchiladas, or sandwiches.  For this meal, you could also used canned chicken chunks (well drained and dried), or even cubed fresh chicken.  If you use the fresh chicken, you’ll cook it a bit longer in the first step, of course.

When the Dutch oven was hot, I tossed in the chicken and let that sear.  I added in the mushrooms, and let them cook down.  I really like the mushrooms when they’re quite browned.  Finally, I added in the other veggies.  All the while, I tossed and stirred everything frequently.

Once the veggies were getting a bit soft and the onions were translucent, I pushed everything aside and made a space in the middle of the Dutch oven.  In that, I added more oil, and the flour.  Immediately I stirred that into a roux and let it cook, stirring, until it started to smell a bit nutty. It was still quite light, a blonde roux.  I mixed everything together.

Then, I stirred in the next set of ingredients, the milk, the stock, the flavorings.  As always, you can use the flavors and amounts that you like.  I put the lid on, refreshed the coals, and brought it up to a simmer, for about 15 minutes.  I tasted and adjusted.  Artichoke has some bitter tones, so the acid in the lemon juice goes a long way toward lessening that and livening it up.  Make sure you have enough.  Vinegar could also be used.

While it was simmering, I prepared the artichokes.  I cut them in half, across the stem, so that each half was like a floral bowl.  I trimmed off a few of the lower leaves.  I got a paring knife and cut and scraped out the “choke” which is the fuzzy stuff in the heart.  I also cut out the first couple of layers of innermost leaves, just to make sure that I got everything.  Then, I put those into the soup.  I pushed them down in, and ladled some soup over them, so that the soup would get down, in between the leaves.  I set the timer for 45 minutes, and put the lid back on.  During the 45 minutes, I just adjusted the coals, and occasionally checked and stirred.

When it was finally done (a leaf of the artichoke came off freely), I brought it in to cool.  I served it up by lifting an artichoke half into a bowl, then ladling the soup around it.  I served it with some Pita wedges to dip into the soup.  We ate it by pulling off the leaves and scraping the flesh at the bottom of the leaf with our teeth, and then sipping the soup with a spoon.  It was delicious!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Baby You can Light My Fire

Is it Chili in here or is it just me?

Imagine that there’s an early hominid wandering through a forest.  It’s a nice day.  He’s been hunting, but hasn’t found anything for dinner just yet. He looks and sees a small plant with a number of dangling red fruit-y things.  They’re not as long as his finger, and the’re about that big around. He’s seen things like it before, but never this exact thing.  Other fruit-y things He’d eaten have tasted really good, kinda sweet, sometimes with a bit of tang.  So, he pulls a few off.  They feel lighter than most fruits, as if they were hollow.  Still, he lifts one up to his mouth and takes a bite.

Immediately his mouth floods with pain, as if it were on fire.  His eyes tear and his face feels flush and hot.  All he can think of is getting something to cool down the burning on his tongue.  He sees a stream nearby and rush to it, cupping the precious cool water in his hands.  Each drink cools the heat and calms the pain, but only for a moment, so he drinks more and more.

Finally, he stops, because it just isn’t helping.  But it’s not long before the pain begins to subside, and he shakes his head and walks away, a valuable lesson learned.

Today, of course, we know of the evolutionary value of a defense mechanism like this. If everyone that tries to eat you ends up screaming in pain, you don’t get eaten very often. Your species lives and reproduces.

But that only works if the predators are smart.  And, we’re dealing with humans, here, or the ancestors of them. Humans are not known for taking lessons well. See, because somewhere along the evolutionary line, one of our great-great-great-great-etc grandparents actually went BACK to that burning bush and ate those peppers A SECOND TIME.

Maybe he just gave them to a friend so he could laugh as the victim of his prank danced and guzzled like he had done the first time. But, no matter, at some point someone decided that this burning blaze on his tongue, this firey feeling was a good thing.

And that’s why, today, we have hot sauce.

The other day, I saw this video that explains why 1) peppers burn our mouths, and 2) why it feels so good afterward.  It’s a fascinating video and article, and in summary it says that the capsaicin molecules in the peppers (which actually cause the heat) react with the nerve receptors on our tongues and fool them into reacting as if they’d actually touched something physically scalding hot.  Our minds actually think that our tongue is scalding.

The reason water doesn’t help is that the capsaicin is an oil, so the water doesn’t wash it off.  It only temporarily tells the tongue nerve receptors that they’re cool.  Then, when the water’s gone and swallowed, the heat comes back because the capsaicin is still there.

That heat and pain also automatically trigger our body's responce, which is: pain relief!  Endorphins!  That's why after, you feel flush and excited.  In fact a few pain creams and ointments utilize capsaicin to trigger the body's natural pain relievers, topically.

It’s interesting to note that, according to the article, the menthol in mint and mint candies work the opposite way, fooling your tongue into thinking it’s touching something cool.

Wow.  Knowledge is cool.

...Or is it hot?

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dutch Oven Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce

My mom made Spaghetti squash a lot when I was a kid, so I’m pretty familiar with it. For those that aren’t, it’s a yellow winter squash, and after it’s cooked, the flesh is scraped off the rind.  When you do it, the flesh shreds into short strings and looks a lot like spaghetti. It has a slightly sweet taste with a crunchy texture.

My mom always served it up with some kind of marinara/meat sauce, and I liked it a lot.  I can remember one time, I had this “Ah-ha!” moment, and I blurted out to my mom, “They must have crossed a squash with spaghetti!”.  And as soon as I said it, I realized how dumb that was.

So much for “Ah-ha...”

Lately we’ve been trying to eat healthier, so we got a few squashes.  I did some research and found that there are a lot of ways that people use them.  Of course, there’s the traditional “italian” tomato sauces, as a main dish, but there are also those that use it as a side, and just apply butter, garlic and herbs.  Another cool thing is that it will keep on your counter top for weeks.

In this dish, I wasn’t really going for “healthy” because I used ordinary pork sausage, but even still, I figured that a full plate was only about 700-750 calories, including the parmesan and feta. That’s not bad for a main evening meal.  If you wanted to go even less, you could use ground turkey, and even spice it like a sausage.

 Another comment:  It was tricky to figure out how many spaghetti squashes to cook for how many people.  For some reason, the websites I looked at didn’t say, either.  I found that as a main dish, one squash will do a full plate for two people.  As a side, one spaghetti squash could probably serve three to four.

Dutch Oven Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce

14” Deep Dutch oven (to cook two squashes)
16-18 coals below
20-24 coals above

12” Shallow Dutch oven
18-20 coals below

2 spaghetti squashes
olive oil

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions
About 6 mushrooms
1 green pepper
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground meat (I used sausage)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can tomato sauce

Parmesan cheese
Feta Cheese

I started out by lighting up a lot of coals, because I’d be cooking both the squashes and the sauce side-by-side.  I cut the squash in two, lengthwise, using a butcher knife.  It was tough, so I went with the big blade!  I scooped out the seeds and the stringy guts and left the regular squash flesh in place.  I drizzled on some olive oil and some salt in each half, and put them into the oven, upside down.  I cut open the second one and did the same.  Actually, I had some of the pieces the other way, like a bowl, and the moisture got trapped as it cooked, and made for runnier “noodles”.

The squash had to cook for a long time.  In retrospect, I would consider pre-heating the Dutch oven, while getting everything ready.  That would have cut down on the time a bit.  Once the squashes were in place, it was just a matter of maintaining the heat, for about an hour and a half.

In the meantime, I made the sauce.  It’s a pretty straightforward spaghetti meat sauce, and if you wanted to, you could even use bottled sauce.  But I made my own.

I started off with coals under my 12” Dutch oven, heating up a bit of olive oil.  I sliced the mushrooms and started sauteing them.  My wife likes her mushrooms cooked down quite a bit, browned and done.  Over the years, I’ve come to love them this way, too.  It takes a little longer, though.  Once they’re close to done, I added in the onions and the peppers, and, finally, the garlic.  A bit of salt as each one is added helps to extract the moisture.

Once the veggies had gotten a little brown, I cleared them off to the sides and put the meat in the center.  I browned it fully, and added the tomatoes (with liquid), and the sauce.  Finally, I added the seasonings to taste, and replenished the coals for a good simmer, with the lid on.

When I could stick a little wooden skewer into the flesh of the squashes without much resistance, I knew they were done, and the sauce was well-simmered as well.  I brought it all in.

I let the squashes cool, with the lid off, for a little bit so they would be easier to handle.  I pulled each one out, one at a time, and, with a fork, began scraping the insides of the squash “bowl”, lengthwise.  Immediately it pulls apart into short threads, like pasta.  I lifted it out as I went onto the plate,  When the squash was empty, the plate was full, and I spread it out.  I ladled on some of the sauce, and finally, sprinkled on the cheeses.

You eat it with a fork, but not like spaghetti, where you twirl it around.  The “noodles” aren’t long enough for that.  You just scoop up a forkful and enjoy it!  This was the first time my son remembered trying it, and he loved it!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dutch Oven Cabbage and Sausage

I don’t often use cabbage, but a couple of heads were given to us, and I had to think for a bit to figure out what to do with them.  A slaw, of course, is an obvious idea, but that’s uncooked.  Finally, I picked up some smoked sausage and went with this!

This dish is a comfort food from my childhood.  My mom used to make it in a slow cooker.  I don’t know the exact recipe she used, but I found a few that were close enough and blended them together.

12” Dutch oven

20+ coals underneath, to brown and saute
10-12 below, 16-18 above for the final cooking.

1-2 lbs smoked sausage or kielbasa
1 tablespoon butter
2 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 jalapeno, cored, seeded, and minced
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1 small head cabbage, shredded
1 apple, cored and sliced thin
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1/2 cup water

I started by getting the coals hot, then heating up the Dutch oven over them. I wanted it pretty hot, so I let it sit for a bit. I sliced the sausage “on the bias” (at an angle) so there’d be more surface area to brown, and tossed them in.  They started sizzling immediately, letting me know that the oven was hot enough. I tossed them around and let them get nice and seared.

Then, I put in the butter and let it melt. While the sausage was sauteing, I had chopped and minced the other veggie ingredients. I tossed them in and stirred them to get them cooking.  I let them sweat with the salt and pepper.

While that was cooking, in between stirrings, I prepped the cabbage.  I took the Dutch oven off the coals and put in all the ingredients of the second set. I like it very acidic, so I didn’t scrimp on the lemon juice or the vinegar.  I rearranged the coals, and put the lid on, with coals on top. From there, it was a simple process to cook the cabbage down, stirring occasionally. It took about 25 minutes to a half hour, and I did replenish my coals (partly from time, and because it was cold and breezy out).

It’s easy to serve, too, just dish it out onto a plate or a bowl.  In the end it was delicious! I liked the tangy tones of the lemons with the edgy sweet tones of the cabbage and the apple. The savory sausage is a nice touch, too.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Food Storage Dutch Oven Chili

Exciting news!

I’ve been offered a contract for a fifth book, tentatively titled something like “Dutch Oven Preparedness”!  It will be all about using food storage ingredients in your Dutch oven.  The idea is that if you find yourself in an emergency situation without any electricity, you’ll still be able to cook and eat well!

Here’s one of the first ideas, that I tried out last week. It was unique for me, because I was faced with the challenge of cooking something delicious without using any fresh ingredients. That was hard for me, because I’ve always emphasized the value of freshness. But in the end, it came off great!

Food Storage Dutch Oven Chili with Beef Jerky

12” shallow Dutch Oven

20+ coals below

12-16 oz  lbs beef jerky, any flavor you like.
4 cups water

3/4 - 1 cup dehydrated onions
3/4 - 1 cup dehydrated green peppers
3/4 - 1 cup dehydrated celery

1 15 oz can pinto beans
1 15 oz can red kidney beans
1 15 oz can black beans
(or 1 1/2-2 lbs dried, bagged beans, soaked overnight in water)
2 14 oz cans minced or crushed tomatoes
1-2 cups additional water, as needed

Chili Powder and/or cayenne
garlic powder
dried lemon zest

1-2 Tbsp corn flour

I started this out a little different than a traditional fresh-ingredient chili.  Usually, I’ll begin by sauteing the aromatics.  In this case, I want to start by rehydrating some of the ingredients and extracting some of the rich flavors, creating the broth first.  I lit up some coals and when they were whitening, I put about 20 or more under my 12” Dutch oven.

Then, I put in 2 cups of the water and let that get heated up.  I did this with the lid on, because it simmers faster.  While that was heating up, I chopped up the jerky into chunks with my chef’s knife.  I didn’t want the chunks to be too small.  Bite-sized, really.  I put those into the simmering water, and stirred occasionally.  After about a half hour, the water was quite dark with the liquids and seasonings of the meat. I added two more cups of water, and tossed in the dehydrated  veggies.  I let it simmer some more.

After another 15-20 minutes of continuous simmering, all the dried stuff was puffing up and the smells were getting rich. Much of the water had been absorbed, but there was still a lot of liquid. I added the beans and other canned ingredients.  Usually, when I make chili, I like to add different beans because it makes for more visual variety.  I’ve heard that combining bean varieties is more healthy, too, but I don’t know that for sure.  I’ll usually drain all but one can, and use the liquid from that last can as part of the liquid of the broth.  If I use dry bagged beans, I’ll usually drain off any of the leftover soaking liquid before adding them. The tomato cans I add in completely, with the liquid.  If you need more liquid, you can add more at this point, or not drain the cans.

All along this time, I was adding more coals from the side fire, replenishing as necessary to keep a steady simmer (not a rolling boil) going.

When that has been simmering for a while, I began adding in the flavorings.  When I start adding heat, I’ll sprinkle some in, let it simmer, then taste it.  You can always add more hot pepper flakes or cayenne, but you can’t remove it if you put in too much.  I didn’t put any amounts on these flavorings, because you’ll really just do it to taste.  I find, for example, that the dried lemon zest flavor gets lost easily, so I like at add a lot.

Finally, the corn flour can be added a bit at a time to thicken it up if necessary.  As thickeners go, I like it for chili because it adds a certain southwest tone to the whole pot.

Finally, serve it up!  A great bowl of chili from food entirely stored on your shelf.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Christmas Dinner, Part 2: Nusskuchen in a Dutch Oven

Nusskuchen (pronounced like: NOOS-COO-khen) is a German nut cake.  In fact, it’s a direct translation. “Nuss” means “nut”, and “kuchen” means “cake”. In our family, my mother made it every Christmas time. It’s not for everyone, because it’s a very dry and heavy cake, not light and fluffy like most cakes we Americans are used to.  The glaze gives it a bit more moisture.  Still I love the nutty and cocoa laden taste.  When mom made it, she usually used walnuts, because we had them falling from the trees in our backyard every fall. Since my wife’s tongue gets sores from walnuts, I used hazelnuts.  Pecans or english walnuts would also work.


8” Dutch oven

6-7 coals below
10-12 coals above

1/2 cups + 1 tbsp butter
1/2 cups + 1 tbsp sugar
2 Eggs

3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup corn starch
3 Tbsp cocoa

1/2 cup + ground or chopped hazelnuts or walnuts
1 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)

Before I start in on the instructions, let me say a few words about the ingredients.  First of all, my mom’s original recipe used the all-purpose flour and the corn starch.  I’m told that it’s actually a way of conveniently substituting for cake flour, so I think you could try this with 1 full cup of cake flour.  Second, the dark Chocolate Chips was my addition.  I like the dark chocolate because it seems to blend well with the flavors of the cocoa and the nuts.

Notice also that there is no leavening in the ingredients.  No yeast, no baking soda or baking powder.  That’s one of the things that makes it so dense.  Still, to make it a bit lighter, it’s important to start the ingredients at room temperature and cream the butter and the sugar a lot.  You want to get as much air into the mixture as possible.

So, I started with that process, using a slotted metal spoon back.  It took a very long time, and it was a real workout, but eventually it got to the point where it looked like a fluffy frosting.  Then, while continuing to beat the mix, I added the eggs in, one at a time.

Then, I took a break and mixed all of the powdered ingredients in another bowl.  I sifted the flour so as to get even a bit more aeration. Once that was done, I lit the coals.  In this case, I just went out and made sure that there were new fresh coals in the chimney, as I was cooking the bacon-turkey in the previous blog entry.  Then I prepared the Dutch oven.  I oiled and floured the interior. I would have put down a disc of parchment, but I couldn’t find it.  Oh, well.

With the Dutch oven ready, and the coals getting hot, I blended the wet and dry ingredients.  It wasn’t easy, but I beat them together with as much vigor as I could muster, again, to get as much air as possible into the batter. Finally, added in the nuts and the chocolate chips, mixing some more. I poured it into the Dutch oven and took that out onto the coals.

It did take a long time to bake, and it was kind of difficult to tell, since it’s a pretty dry mix.  Go easy on any replenishment, especially of the bottom coals, because it’s very easy for the bottom to burn. I Checked it at about 45 minutes, and it was done.  While was cooking I made the simple glaze.

1/2 cup powdered sugar
hot water or milk to texture

I simply measured out the powdered sugar into a bowl and added in bits of the hot liquid while stirring with a small whisk.  After a few additions of the liquid, it started to look like a drizzle, and I just dusted in a little more sugar to thicken it back up.

When the nusskuchen is done, take it off the coals and let it cool with lid off.  Upend the Dutch oven and use your hand to steady the cake out.  Slice it and serve it with the glaze.  It’s got tones of sweet and bitterness that combine nicely.  I really love it!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Christmas Dinner: Part 1: Bacon-Draped Turkey in the Dutch Oven

This holiday season has been quite a hectic, crazy one.  Between my son’s knee surgeries and my general work schedule, I’ve barely had time to think.  I still got out and cooked in my Dutch ovens, but I just haven’t been writing about it.  I’ve got a backlog of recipes to catch up on!

I thought I’d start with Christmas dinner.  Since family parties and obligations meant that I didn’t do a Thanksgiving turkey this year, I thought I’d do it for Christmas.  A neighbor, in his kindness gave us a 13 lb hen, and I roasted it up.  I really like the smaller turkeys.  Not only do they fit in the Dutch oven better, but they’re more tender and juicy, I think.  I did this one a new way, draped in bacon.  It was delicious.  Here’s the process:

14” Dutch oven

14-16 coals below
20-22 coals above

1 12-14 lb Turkey hen
13 oz salt (about half of a 26 oz carton)
1 1 lb brown sugar
Water to cover

2-3 large potatoes
2-3 Medium onions
Cayenne Pepper
1 lb sliced bacon

A few days before the big day, I started thawing the turkey. The best way to do that is to move it from the freezer to the fridge. We were having 30-40 degree days, so I just set it in the garage, still in its plastic packaging.

The night before cooking, I set up the brine.  This is going to be an overnight soak in a salt water solution to tenderize the meat and give it a bit of tang. I usually do this in a travel cooler. The best I’ve found is the large, round drink coolers. But use whatever you’ve got. I started by putting in about 2” of hot tap water in the bottom. To that, I added the salt and the sugar. I stirred this all up and got it as dissolved as I could. Then, I added a few more inches of cold water, stirring as I went.

I unpacked the turkey and stuck a lot of holes in the skin all around with a paring knife.  This helps the brine get more into the meat. I set it in the water (which actually looks really gross with the brown sugar in it), and then poured in enough water to cover the turkey.  As a last bit, I usually add in some ice. I always do that in the summer so that it stays cool overnight. In the winter, I just let the cold of the night in the garage keep it the right temperature.

By morning it was nicely brined and evenly thawed, ready for the fire.

Since this was to be served in the early evening, I started preparing it at about 11:00.  I first cubed up the potatoes into one inch blocks and tossed them around the bottom of the lightly oiled Dutch oven. The onions, too. You could add more veggies if you wanted, like celery and carrots. The point of the potatoes is to lift the turkey up above the juices that cook out. Then I went out and lit up a chimney full of coals.

I set the turkey onto the potatoes and onions. Then I sprinkled some salt, pepper and paprika over the upper surface of the bird.  After it was roasting, I thought it would be kinda tasty to have layered the top with honey. If you try that, let me know how it turns out.

Finally, I simply draped the bacon strips over the top of the turkey.  There were sufficient strips to layer them twice, once across the chest, and once on lengthwise. Once that was done, it was time to start roasting!

I went out and set it on the coals. Typically, when roasting, you do the same number below and above, but I usually go a few more above, just because heat rises. And where it’s winter and there was a breeze to blow away some of the heat, I went with that.  I wasn’t shooting for too hot of a roasting temp, about 350°F. Lower than that will just make for a slower roast, which tastes better anyway.

At that point, it was just a matter of keeping the Dutch oven hot with fresh coals.  Like I said, it was a bit breezy, so the coals burned a bit quicker. I like to do my turkeys to an internal temperature of between 170 and 180°F, just to make sure that it’s done all the way through.  The seasonings and the bacon combined to a nice flavor with supplemented the turkey without overpowering it.  It was a great centerpiece for the Christmas meal!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


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